Private Internet Acces Review 2023
In today's digital world, online privacy and security are paramount. As we increasingly rely on the internet for our daily activities, we become more vulnerable to cyber threats, data breaches, and surveillance. A study by the University of Maryland found that, on average, every 39 seconds, a hacker attempts to breach someone's data online. Now this data is from 2013, and it's 2023 now, so adjust the crime ‘inflation’ here.
This is where a Virtual Private Network (VPN) comes into play. A VPN encrypts your internet connection, masks your IP address, and protects your online privacy. Among the numerous VPN services available, Private Internet Access (PIA) stands out as a popular choice for many users. In this article, I will provide an in-depth review of Private Internet Access VPN, covering its features, performance, pricing, and more.
Private Internet Access has built a reputation for being a reliable and secure VPN service with a global network of servers. With a strict no-logs policy, advanced security features, and competitive pricing, PIA has become a good option. But is it the best option?
This article is what the testing team and I found on PIA, it will help you decide if PIA is the right option for you or not. By the end of this article, you will have a comprehensive understanding of PIA VPN and be able to determine if it's the right choice for you.
For Readers In A Hurry, Here Is My Quick Take:
Private Internet Access (PIA) is an affordable VPN with a massive server fleet of more than 17,000 servers in 84 countries, which is the largest VPN server network. With that, PIA also has specially optimized streaming servers that can access the geo-restricted content on many platforms, including Netflix and many other players. PIA follows a strict ‘no-logs policy’ and has installed RAM-only servers for additional privacy. PIA offers additional features like multi-hop, in-browser, and MACE (ad and pop-up blocker).
On the other side, PIA is based in the US jurisdiction. This is not good news for users seeking privacy. Private Internet Access is also owned by Kape Technologies, which owns several other VPNs and has had a bit of a troubled past.
At the price of $2.19 per month, there are no other VPNs in competition with this one. Personally, I would pay a bit more for my online privacy. Providers like ExpressVPN and Surfshark VPN are a bit expensive. While the features at this price are lucrative, privacy can be questioned.
Massive Server Fleet
Streaming Optimized Servers
Loaded with Special Features
Highly Customizable Interface
Cheapest VPN At This Price
Based in the US (5 Eyes)
Confusing Interface for Beginners
Excessive Virtual Server
Now, let’s analyze PIA deeply.
Price and Value
Private Internet Access offers three subscription plans, similar to most VPNs, with long-term plans usually being the most cost-effective. It provides a monthly, yearly, and 3-year subscription. The monthly subscription costs $11.99/mo, the yearly plan is $7.50/mo or $45, and the 3-year plan costs only $2.19/mo or $56.94 for three years.
The 3-year plan is among the cheapest premium VPNs available. It is a great value package, but we always recommend our users first try the shorter subscription options. This allows you to test the service and ensure it meets your needs before committing to a longer-term plan. Additionally, if you are not satisfied with the service, you can take advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee.
Protocols and Encryption
Private Internet Access provides users with a variety of protocols, including WireGuard, OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPSec. WireGuard and OpenVPN are highly regarded open-source protocols, with most VPN services incorporating one or both.
While WireGuard is a more recent addition and has undergone less testing, OpenVPN has been employed by businesses for many years and has been more extensively tested for vulnerabilities. However, in terms of speed, WireGuard has the edge, offering greater reliability. The IKEv2 protocol is specifically supported on iOS devices, as it operates more efficiently on that platform.
Private Internet Access also allows users to select their preferred encryption method. With options for AES128 and AES256, the default is set to AES 128, but we suggest adjusting the settings to AES 256 for enhanced security. Though 128 is also unbreakable, AES 256 is just another relief.
One of the standout features of PIA is the ability for users to customize their experience. Many VPNs don't offer the flexibility to alter the encryption method or packet size, often only supporting a single protocol without the option for modification.
PIA enables you to choose your transport (UDP and TCP), MTU (small, large, or auto packets), and even the configuration method (DHCP or static). These extensive choices cater to both tech-savvy users and those less familiar with technology, who can rely on the default settings for solid performance.
Large server network
Private Internet Access boasts a server presence of more than 17,000 servers in 84 countries, surpassing the average and providing more options for users to choose from. Comparatively, NordVPN has servers in 60 countries, while ExpressVPN extends to 94 countries. PIA's servers are strategically spread across the world, enhancing the ability to mask users' locations.
Remarkably, PIA maintains servers in Africa and America, regions often overlooked by other VPN providers due to lower demand. This broad server network enables PIA to cater to a variety of VPN use cases, rather than focusing solely on streaming, for example. To ensure user safety, Private Internet Access employs virtual servers in jurisdictions deemed unsafe, as was the case with their Hong Kong server.
Although PIA does not publicly disclose the total number of servers, our research estimates there are approximately 17,600+ servers in their network. This impressive figure surpasses other VPN providers, such as CyberGhost, which has around 7,500+ servers, making it the second-largest.
It's important to note that not all of PIA's servers are physical. They also utilize virtual servers, which are assigned the virtual IP of a given location but are physically situated elsewhere. While virtual servers are not inherently problematic, we expect VPN providers to report them clearly. PIA does this by marking virtual servers with a globe-like symbol, indicating their geo-located status.
PIA's extensive use of virtual servers is, according to the company, for server protection purposes. They claim to have built collocated servers, which are exclusively maintained by their team, but this can be challenging in some locations. It's worth noting that competitors like ExpressVPN have only 3% of their servers as virtual, while NordVPN uses only physical servers, albeit with fewer location options.
Private Internet Access has transitioned to diskless or RAM-only servers, which are incapable of storing records or data. This upgrade significantly enhances user data protection, and many other VPN providers are also adopting this approach. These servers lack a disk for data storage.
In 2016, when US authorities seized one of PIA's servers, they found no information, rendering it useless. A similar outcome occurred when a server was seized in Russia.
Speed and Performance
As a VPN, Private Internet Access encrypts user requests, tunnels them to their destination, retrieves the data through the tunnel, and then decrypts it. This process is essential for security but can be time-consuming, especially when repeated for every click or search. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure the VPN operates efficiently. Our experts put VPNs through multiple speed tests to evaluate their performance in real life. This includes a detailed 12 hours test monthly for each VPN.
Private Internet Access is a very fast VPN, if not the fastest. We found its speed to be slightly slower than competitors like NordVPN and ExpressVPN, which are among the fastest VPNs available. However, PIA's performance was still above average.
Download speeds were reduced by 18% and upload speeds by 21%. Despite being above average, these results were not as impressive as those of some competitors. The speed is still sufficient for streaming HD content without buffering and downloading files with ease.
Latency is displayed in the server list, allowing users to select the server with the lowest latency. Although PIA's servers previously experienced high latency due to increased user numbers, the expansion of their server network has resolved this issue. PIA is also upgrading its servers from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps, contributing to the high speeds on most of its servers. For streaming, you can try the streaming-optimized servers, which are fast with low latency.
However, we observed minor speed fluctuations, which are not ideal for a reputable VPN service. Though it happened only twice in a week of monitoring, it was still not expected. However, PIA does quickly recover from these fluctuations, within a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
Speed test results 2023:
Stream Netflix, BBC iPlayer, HULU, and much more
Private Internet Access VPN excels in streaming capabilities, providing access to Netflix libraries in the USA, UK, and other countries. With impressive speed, users can enjoy HD streaming without buffering.
PIA offers designated streaming servers that can be easily accessed, simplifying the process of finding the best server for streaming geo-restricted content. In our tests, PIA successfully unblocked many geo-restricted Netflix libraries, which is amazing considering the number of available streaming servers.
PIA also accessed BBC iPlayer every time we tested. This is the most reliable VPN for BBC iPlayer. Furthermore, streaming is possible on platforms like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more through PIA, although users may need to switch servers or attempt multiple times in some cases.
Privacy is their Policy
To further ensure that no user data is inadvertently stored, PIA employs RAM-only servers. This type of server setup prevents data from being stored on physical hard drives, thus eliminating the possibility of retaining user information. A no-logs policy like the one implemented by Private Internet Access and NordVPN is vital for VPN providers to maintain user trust and protect their privacy.
Data collection is an essential aspect of any VPN service. While all VPN providers need to collect email addresses and payment details to offer premium accounts, Private Internet Access goes above and beyond in this area. PIA offers anonymous payment methods through cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. These methods are completely anonymous and untrackable. This commitment is what we need other VPNs like IP Vanish to follow.
PIA collects some analytical and performance data, but it is in aggregate form. Importantly, this data is not linked to individual user accounts, which means users cannot be traced or linked to any specific activity. All user activities remain entirely anonymous, providing an added layer of privacy protection.
n addition to its no-logs policy, Private Internet Access VPN issues transparency reports. These reports detail the number of times the company has been subpoenaed by authorities and the outcomes of those instances. The reports show no logs have been found in any warrants, further proving their commitment to user privacy.
This is one of the strengths of Private Internet Access. PIA allows torrenting on all of its servers, not just some of them like its competitors. It has great port-forwarding tools that are very useful and efficient while using torrents.
The connection is very reliable and efficient. The torrenting is even better than Surfshark and NordVPN. The MACE also works great with torrenting and can save you if you land on any tracker or malware
Audit by Deloitte
In June 2022, Private Internet Access went through a rigorous third-party audit conducted by Deloitte Audit Romania. This audit aimed to verify if there was any evidence of user activity on PIA's servers. The results of the audit confirmed that Private Internet Access did not store or pinpoint any user data or activity. This independent verification of their privacy practices adds to the trustworthiness of the company and its dedication to user privacy.
These factors, including PIA's no-logs policy, RAM-only servers, anonymous payment options, transparency reports, and a successful third-party audit, demonstrate that Private Internet Access VPN is committed to user privacy and security. This level of dedication makes PIA a reliable and trustworthy choice for users seeking a dependable VPN service. The company's transparency further enhances trust and shows its commitment to maintaining an open and honest relationship with its users.
Jurisdiction and Parent Company
One aspect of Private Internet Access VPN that raises concerns among some users is its jurisdiction. Private Internet Access is based in the United States, which many consider an anti-privacy or privacy-unfriendly location. The United States is a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance. This alliance, which also includes the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, was established to conduct surveillance on citizens and share intelligence information for national security purposes.
The USA does have a past for excessive violations of privacy by authorities. However, Private Internet Access asserts that since there is no law mandating the retention of user data, they do not store any. Like all VPNs, PIA must comply with subpoenas issued by the courts, which in this case would be US-based courts. To address this concern, the company has upgraded to RAM-only servers, making it more difficult for any data to be inadvertently retained or accessed.
A subsidiary of Kape Technologies
In November 2019, Private Internet Access VPN was acquired by Kape Technologies, a company that also owns ExpressVPN, CyberGhost VPN, and Zenmate VPN. This acquisition was met with criticism from some users, primarily due to concerns surrounding Kape Technologies' history.
Previously known as Crossrider plc, Kape Technologies was an adware company based in Romania. The platform was used by spammers to insert SQL injections and malware into their ads, exploiting users. After Kape realized the platform was being misused, they shut it down in 2016 before acquiring CyberGhost VPN.
Some users also worry that Kape is a publicly traded company. This is because all public companies need to share data and analytics with their shareholders and board of directors, who often want to use any information possible to increase their profits. However, we did not find any such information or anything of the sort.
Though PIA is working toward safeguarding its users' privacy, you can also explore other VPNs with more privacy and a no-logs policy here.
Private Internet Access (PIA) continually strives to improve its service by offering not just more servers but also a secure and user-friendly experience. But PIA does not stop here, as it is more than just a VPN. PIA provides special features such as a kill switch, advanced split tunneling, multi-hop, a private browser (Inbrowser), and MACE (an ad-blocker). These features are what make it an all-around VPN.
Secure Kill Switch
A kill switch in a VPN ensures that your internet connection is terminated if the VPN gets disconnected. This feature prevents identity leaks by automatically disconnecting the internet until the VPN reconnects. PIA's kill switch is among the best, offering two settings: VPN Kill Switch and Advanced Kill Switch.
The VPN kill switch activates when the VPN is connected and shuts off the internet if the VPN gets disconnected.
The advanced kill switch prevents internet access until the VPN is connected. The advanced option is currently available only on Windows and Mac. I would suggest only using the advanced kill switch when you want to be completely secured and not leave the slightest chance of any trace.
Advanced Split Tunneling
PIA also offers advanced split tunneling, allowing you to bypass certain apps or websites without using a VPN. This feature is useful for secure connections like banking apps and high-graphics games that may not require a VPN. PIA provides two options: "Use VPN" or "Bypass VPN."
"Use VPN" connects selected apps or websites through the VPN, while "Bypass VPN" connects them without the VPN. This feature is available on Windows, Mac, and Android. We recommend adding trustworthy apps to "Bypass VPN" or including all browsers in "Use VPN."
The multi-hop feature provides double security by routing your requests through two servers and obscuring your connection. This feature is useful for activities requiring extra security, such as browsing the dark web or accessing geo-restricted content. You can also use Shadowsocks and add any service you like. To use SOCKS5, you'll need a separate ID and password from the control panel or dashboard.
Do keep in mind that employing 2 servers will reduce your speed to a great extent. Every request will be traveled through multiple points, encrypting multiple times and taking a lot of time. So use it only when necessary.
Inbrowser is PIA's private browser for iOS and Android, which you need to download from their website or applicable app store. Consider this browser as a burner phone for the internet. This works like incognito mode, with the difference that it is really private and not like Google.
This browser doesn't store data or activity and deletes everything once the app is closed. So, after using the browser for your work, you just need to close the app, and whoosh, no one knows your history or logs anymore. Inbrowser provides a secure browsing experience similar to using Google in incognito mode.
MACE is PIA's built-in ad-blocker, designed to block ads, displays, and known tracker sites. While useful, it's essential to remember that PIA is primarily a VPN, not an ad blocker. Thus, like every other VPN's ad blocker, MACE is also limited in its capabilities.
Still, when compared to other VPN ad-blockers, MACE is among the best. It did block many pop-ups and other pop-up links. It was unable to detect blocked ads on platforms like Youtube, which was not even expected. We recommend using a verified ad blocker for optimal results and security.
PIA VPN has applications for the following devices:
We conducted a thorough evaluation of the Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN on various operating systems to provide an in-depth analysis of its performance, features, and user experience
PIA in Windows app
For the Windows version, we used a Dell XPS 15 laptop running Windows 11. To use PIA, we can download the Windows application from the PIA account dashboard or the official site. You will be assigned an account number and a different password to log in to the application. Upon launching the application, users may find the default sticky tab attached to the tray a bit frustrating. However, this can be easily corrected by going to the settings, which are accessible even without logging in. In the General settings, users can change the desktop appearance to Windows, making the tab more customizable and movable. PIA sends login credentials via email, which, although convenient, may not be the most secure method as the email could potentially be intercepted. As a precaution, we recommend changing the password upon receiving the email. After logging in, users will see the VPN screen with a prominent Quick Connect button outlined in yellow. This button allows users to automatically connect to the fastest available server. Below the quick connect button, users can view and select from a list of servers, complete with each server's country and latency. Clicking the down arrow will reveal additional quick settings and quick servers, as well as the user's IP address and usage data. The three dots in the top-right corner provide access to the settings menu, where users can enable features like the kill switch, multi-hop, and split tunneling. Users can also purchase a dedicated IP address from the dashboard and activate it using the provided activation code.
PIA in Android
For the Android version, we used a OnePlus 8 running Android 13. The PIA app was easily downloaded from the Google Play Store and proved to be user-friendly. The interface is similar to the Windows version, featuring the same quick connect button, server list, and settings menu.
The Android version's settings menu offers options for selecting protocols, configuring network settings, enabling split tunneling, and activating the multi-hop feature. While the multi-hop feature provides additional security, it may be challenging to configure for users with limited technical knowledge. We recommend PIA make this feature more accessible for non-tech-savvy users.
Check our top picks for the best Free VPNs for Android.
PIA in MacOS
The macOS version of PIA VPN is not available on the App Store, so we had to download it from the official PIA website. This method is not as convenient as downloading from the App Store, but most VPNs face similar limitations on macOS. The window appears small and centered, but users can move it according to their preferences.
The macOS version's interface is similar to the ones on Windows and Android, with the default theme being dark or the system's theme. Users can change the theme in the settings. The macOS version also offers the IKEv2 protocol, which is available on iOS as well.
The quick connect button, server list, and various settings for features like the kill switch, multi-hop, and split tunneling are also present in the macOS version.
PIA in iOS
We tested PIA's iOS version on an iPhone 11, downloading the app from the App Store. The interface is similar to other platforms, featuring the quick connect button, server list, and quick settings. The iOS version offers most features found on other platforms, such as multi-hop and the kill switch. However, split tunneling is not available on iOS, as the operating system does not support this feature, which is a limitation shared by other VPNs as well.
One notable aspect of the PIA iOS app is its customizable interface. Users can change the order of the options by bookmarking the cells, allowing them to move frequently used settings to the top, just below the quick connect switch. This level of customization greatly enhances the user experience.
All server locations are marked with latency, and virtual servers have proper symbols for easy identification. Although virtual servers provide convenience, it would be preferable for PIA to minimize their use in favor of physical servers. The customizable settings and numerous features make PIA an attractive option for iOS users.
One of the essential aspects of any service is the quality of customer support it provides. Private Internet Access understands the importance of prompt and helpful customer support and offers multiple ways to get assistance when you need it.
Live Chat: Private Internet Access provides a 24/7 live chat feature, which is an efficient and quick way to get your questions answered in real-time. This is the easiest and most useful support.
Email Support: If you prefer to reach out via email, you can submit a support ticket through their website. This can be very lengthy and may take 12 to 24 hours to get a reply.
Knowledge Base: Then there is obviously an extensive knowledge base on its website, which includes a comprehensive collection of guides, FAQs, and troubleshooting articles. If the problem can be solved here, why not try it?
Private Internet Access is undoubtedly one of the top VPNs on the market. Although the monthly prices are relatively high, the long-term prices offer excellent value. The VPN provides exceptional features that are difficult to find at such competitive pricing.
We would definitely recommend PIA as a reliable service provider. However, if you primarily need a VPN for streaming purposes, it might be worthwhile to explore other options as well. While PIA offers an extensive feature set and excellent value for money, it's essential to consider your specific needs and requirements when choosing a VPN provider.